The presence of news media at Wednesday night’s Town Hall in South Los Angeles to address the deputy-involved killing of unarmed 16-year-old Anthony “A.J.” Weber could’ve been a blessing. The grieving family and community had an opportunity to be heard on a national level. An opportunity to say or do what they needed in front of Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department officials, with less of a chance of being threatened, beaten or shot. An opportunity to expose the Sheriff’s Department’s actions for what they are: the coverup and justification of the state-sanctioned murder of a black child.
But, as usual, in the long history of white-owned media covering black grief, you were there to consume and exploit. To film and take notes the entire time, but only explicitly publish the parts that discredit the community being harmed. To get clicks and likes with buzzwords like “gang member,” “angry mob” and “chaos.” And, most disappointingly, to uplift the narrative put forward by the very people who killed Anthony Weber—members of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department. A narrative designed to protect them from liability and justify their actions while the murderer is on paid administrative leave.
For those of us who were present Wednesday night, we know that the Town Hall was not accurately covered. If it had been, the media would be focusing on the fact that Anthony’s father asked why the LASD was able to confidently say on live TV that his son was a gang member and had a gun when that was not true, but when he asks the LASD any questions, its representatives’ reply is, “We can’t discuss that, since this is an ongoing investigation.”
Why are they able to discuss details that discredit his son on TV during an ongoing investigation with absolutely no evidence to support them? Isn’t that the kind of hard-hitting question a good reporter would want answers to?
How about, Why wasn’t the family given any details about Anthony’s death, yet a press conference was held where they went so far as to play the 911 call for the public? That is a question that was brought up at the Town Hall and left unanswered by the LASD. Could you, as an investigative reporter, not have researched and reported on that?
How about when Anthony’s brother asked people in the room to stand if they were there because they cared about Anthony, and everyone stood up except for the LASD representatives? Is that not the kind of controversy that gets clicks and reactions?
How about when Anthony’s brother described how he himself had been handcuffed and put in a police car while his brother was dying on the concrete and the deputies told him, “Fuck your brother”—is that not newsworthy?
There is one part the news media did grasp onto—when the audience got so fed up by not being answered and by being disrespected, they stood up and raised their voices—but you didn’t accurately describe why. Some of you didn’t even attempt to describe why. At this point, if you need an explanation as to why that happened, you shouldn’t be a reporter.
It’s hard for us to believe that you don’t know the crisis of police violence in black and brown communities. That deputies consistently get away with killing unarmed black children. That when the brother of the deceased asks, “Based on the information that you’ve collected, do you think we’re due something?” and LASD Capt. Christopher Bergner replies, “Absolutely not,” that that is NOT OK—and it’s also not because he was misheard.
The only explanation left is that you accept that your job is just a mechanism to uphold white supremacist systems and condone the killing of black children. If you disagree, then do your job—report the truth.
And the truth is black grief in its entirety.
Here are a few quick tips to help you get started on your path of true reporting:
- Instead of “gang member,” use “child.”
- Instead of “angry mob,” use “grieving community.”
- Instead of “chaos,” use “completely rational response to the murder of a 16-year-old.”
- Instead of “the Sheriff’s Department said … ,” use “the family and community said … ”
- Instead of catering to racists and opportunists, cater to justice and peace for the family.
Here are some examples of what not to do:
If there are further questions—and there should be—reach out directly to the affected family, community or local organizations doing the work.
It’s that easy. Somehow, POC media is capable of doing that in every story. Perhaps your careless reporting is due to the fact that there is no diversity in your newsroom.
We’ll leave you with the words of Amber Marie, whose 17-year-old nephew Armando Garcia was shot to death by deputies earlier this summer.
The same LASD rep, Capt. Christopher Bergner, claimed that the deputies were trying to shoot a dog and that the bullets ricocheted off the ground. The media also initially reported her nephew as a suspect and gang member.
Jasmyne Cannick is a nationally known writer and commentator on politics, race and social issues. She was selected as one of Essence magazine’s 25 Women Shaping the World, one of the Most Influential African-Americans in Los Angeles Under 40. Follow her on Twitter.
Patrisse Khan-Cullors is an artist, organizer and freedom fighter living and working in Los Angeles. Founder and board chair of Dignity and Power Now and co-founder of Black Lives Matter, she is also a performance artist, a Fulbright scholar, a popular public speaker and author of the New York Times best-selling memoir, When They Call You a Terrorist.